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No Special Interest Funding for Americans Elect? New York Times reports “Serious Hedge-Fund Money”

Americans Elect, a 501c4 corporation working to arrange the election of its own presidential ticket in 2012, has rolled out its publicity campaign today with a piece written by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman wrote his column after being invited by Americans Elect to tour “its swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.”

That’s a curious turn of phrase, considering the point-blank declaration this month by Americans Elect that “None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.”

'None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.' — Americans Elect declaration of, July 2011

The definition of a special interest, according to Merriam-Webster, is a person or organization seeking gain through specific economic activity and standing to gain or lose depending on the shape of action taken by the government. Hedge fund investors and managers are market insiders who make money off of aggressive, high-risk investments. Government regulation of hedge funds has been a significant point of contention in recent years, making hedge fund managers and investors part of a special interest group.

Indeed, concerns regarding the regulation of hedge funds almost perfectly bookend the creation and roll-out of Americans Elect. In July of 2010, as the old Unity08 finished its corporate reorganization through the Unity12 Task Force into the new Americans Elect corporation, the Dodd-Frank Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, introducing a new array of regulations of hedge fund activities. In July of 2011, as Americans Elect begins its public roll-out, government agencies, hedge fund managers, banks and investor groups are clashing over the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act, especially rules that allow banks to get into the hedge fund business.

When it comes to Thomas Friedman’s report that Americans Elect is “financed with some serious hedge-fund money,” there are two possibilities:

Possibility 1: Despite having a gig with the New York Times and going to interview Americans Elect in “its swank offices,” Thomas Friedman doesn’t know what he’s talking about here. This isn’t inconceivable: Friedman refers to Kahlil Byrd as “the C.E.O. of Americans Elect,” but current corporate documents show Byrd is actually the Vice Chairman and Treasurer while billionaire Peter Ackerman is Chairman. Americans Elect corporate bylaws specify that “The Chairman shall serve as the chief executive officer of Americans Elect.”

Possibility 2: Americans Elect really is awash with special-interest hedge fund money. Some other evidence pointing in this direction has already emerged. In a fawning promotional piece this weekend for the Daily Beast, No Labels co-founder John Avlon drops a useful statistic: that Americans Elect has raised $20 million from just 50 people, a whopping average contribution of $400,000 per person. Not just anybody can write a check for 400 grand; these are 50 mostly anonymous people to whom Americans Elect owes a big debt of gratitude. We know from other documents that two private investment executives have made donations to Americans Elect: Rockport Capital chief Peter Ackerman to the tune of $1.55 million and hedge fund operator Kirk Rostron in an undisclosed amount. Incomplete documentation of a “giving stream” to Americans Elect also names Melvin Andrews of Los Angeles as a contributor. Melvin Andrews of Los Angeles is the President of Lakeside Capital Partners. Outside of the capital investment business, but definitely in the realm of a “special interest,” is the donation to Americans Elect by Jim Holbrook, Chairman of the Promotion Marketing Association.

So let’s ask Americans Elect about this. Admittedly, Americans Elect’s track record in answering questions isn’t that hot: I’ve been reaching out to the group, asking various questions and trying to make contact with it for nearly a year now and have never gotten any communication in reply. But by gum, I’ll keep trying. I’ve posed the following question to Americans Elect today through its online contact form, through the e-mail address info@americanselect.org, and by a phone call to the newly disclosed media contact number of Americans Elect at 541-WE-ELECT/541-933-5328 (no live person answered the call, but I did leave a message after a recording promised that “we will get back to you as soon as possible”). If I receive an answer to my question, I’ll post it in the comments section for you to read. If you don’t see an answer from Americans Elect in the comments section, it’s because Americans Elect hasn’t given me an answer.

Question: Americans Elect declares that "none of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists." But in his Sunday New York Times profile of Americans Elect, columnist Thomas Friedman describes "swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House." Given recent special interest advocacy of hedge fund operators regarding the Dodd-Frank Act, these two statements appear to be inconsistent. Is Thomas Friedman's statement regarding hedge fund contributions to Americans Elect inaccurate? Or has Americans Elect been accepting money from the operators of hedge funds?

I’ll share any answer I get in the comments section below. If you don’t see any answer from Americans Elect in the comments section for this article, you’ll know that Americans Elect never got back in touch.

25 comments to No Special Interest Funding for Americans Elect? New York Times reports “Serious Hedge-Fund Money”

  • Thanks for keeping up with this story…your reporting is really valuable.

  • Many thanks for publishing this info. Americans Elect’s own website is not forthcoming about who they are, and what their agenda is. Unfortunately, voting over the Internet cannot be made secure for the forseeable future. Any well-funded claim that it does represents a major threat to democracy. See my article, “Internet Voting In California?” http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site/node/9170

  • Richard B Nelson

    I have been a fan of Tom Friedman for years. I would take what he wrote as “gospel”. Undoubtedly the most learned journalist of all things middle eastern and a common sense Minnesota boy. I am 79 years old and always voted Democratic. I have been a union member as I was a conductor on the Milwaukee Road. Now here comes America Elect and Tom Friedman writing about it. I was all set to jump on “The bandwagon”. Thank goodness I read your articles. I guess you can’t believe in anyone anymore.

  • Pablo Skils

    I think a more salient question would be:

    Can Americans Elect categorically state that, provided its membership was in favor, it would not oppose a ticket that includes politicians who would increase the regulation of financial institutions.

    Is this not the heart of the issue?

  • Jack Foley

    Thanks so much for all your diligence and hard work. I went to the supermarket here in San Diego today and I was asked to sign a petition promoted by Americans Elect. It all sounded good, although reading through all the nice sounding verbiage I didn’t notice any reference to any pressing social or economic issues. I didn’t sign so I went home to see if I could figure this out and so it was a real pleasure running across your series of articles on the organization. Bravo! Keep up the good work. We’d have a better country if there were more people like you doing what you’re doing.

  • Mr. Cook,

    As of today, July 27, I have forwarded your information about Americans Elect to most of Fox, the entire editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, Townhall, the Libertarian and Republican parties, Reason magazine, and the neo-libertarians at Q&O. If I do not hear back from any of them, I’ll contact other major media on Friday. Please report on your blog any contact you have with Americans Elect, or further failures on their part to reply to you.

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards,
    Don Kirk

  • carl

    Good article. I heard about AE and went to the web site. Of course I was curious about who started/funded/operated the group … but when such information is not readily found on the organization’s web site, it’s time to raise an eyebrow and hold onto your wallet.

  • Ellen

    This is the new Tea Party. I wonder how Ron Paul is connected to this? Would he be the candidate that AE gets to choose in the case of a disruption in the Electoral Collage as stated in your other article? It appears Mr. Ackerman is quite the manipulator: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Peter_Ackerman

  • Update: In an e-mail to me last night, Americans Elect CTO Joshua Levine pledged to post some disclosures on the Americans Elect website by the end of this August. Mr. Levine used the phrase “funding will be addressed.” We’ll see what that means.

  • My name is Ned and I’m a sucker. I fell for the phony pitch from Americans Elect. I really thought that this was a genuine departure from the “business as usual” game that they play in Washington and Wall Street. This morning, I discovered the promotion of Kahil Byrd to the post of CEO of AE and Googled him to find out who he was and that’s when things got murky.

    So it’s “same ol, same ol” and “smart money” has it’s own party. Now how do I resign and get my contribution back (yeah, I did that too). To update, Shakespeare for the 21st ccentury: “All the world’s a scam and we are mere suckers”

  • First and foremost I think we as Americans owe this website a humble thanks for it’s tireless nagging for the truth about one of the most shady operations in my lifetime. I have to admit that I was duped and sucked into the rhetoric of AE in the beginning; knowing little to nothing about who or what was actually involved. During this time I incredibly came upon a post on Facebook by an old high school friend who promoted AE and mentioned that she was working on this new project with her boyfriend. We exchanged a few typed words of excitement and that was that. Until around a week later when I received a bulk e-mail from AE and responded to the volunteer e-mail address provided. This put me through to the e-mail of Kellen Arno who is referred to as the national director for AE. As it turns out I live in the same town where his uncle, Peter Arno, heads up what is being called Americans Elect NW division. And guess who his girlfriend was? Yup it was the same person I am friends with on Facebook. I could not pass up this opportunity to find out a little more about this little known but interesting group so I touted my technical expertise and set up a personal meeting with Peter Arno, brother of Michael Arno of Arno Political Consultants and less known Capitol Links. Then it was time to do my homework. It took a bit of tinkering but I eventually was able to locate the business website of Capitol Links and what I found was shocking and made my heart stop. Capitol Links alone has worked for unspeakably evil government entities as well as on behalf of corporations such as Wal-Mart, big tobacco and many more. To top it off Kellen Arno himself worked directly for the Bush Administration and for Jeb Bush. Now I was beginning to think these people were as sleezy as they appeared in their profile pictures. When I met with Peter Arno a few days ago he had just flown in from Washington DC and something about him was not right from the beginning. He astonishingly assured me that even though the organization was in his view being portrayed as having a strictly liberal agenda that in fact it had some “very powerful” people and corporate interests behind it. He went on to inform me that I should expect to see some things that would surely be appalling but not to be concerned about the bad press as it was just “part of the process”. Currently I am posing as consultant and technical adviser to Peter Arno of AE NorthWest and am running his twitter and facebook accounts. These people are only of the conservative right wing agenda and in my view out to cipher progressive votes in the 2012 election. The strategy is to rely on discontent and play off of statistical trends in order to spoil the election process just as they may very well have been involved in the key strategy of ruining the American economy in order to line their clients pocket books. Please feel free to e-mail me with any and all questions at corporateae@gmail.com. Blessings to you all!

    • Mike

      OH NOES!!! GET YER TINFOIL HATS OUT! ITS THE EVIL WAL MART CORPORATION AND THE BUSH LEAGUE OUT TO GET US AGAIN!!!

      Seriously, when will you people grow up? YOU are exactly what is wrong with politics today. ZOMG THEY WERKED 4 REPUGS DEY IS SOOOO EVILLLLL!!

      You’re an idiot, a moron, and a tool. Who gives a shit what party anyone has contributed to? I can’t wait for your old partisan politics to die with the rest of the baby boomers. Siphon votes from Democrats??? Are you fucking retarded? You think they send out emails to all the potential Republican voters that say, “HEY THIS IS JUST A SCHEME DON’T REALLY VOTE FOR OUR GUY”???

      God, you people and your blind loyalties. You are so dense.

      • mikey

        Someone, corporateamericanselect, hit a nerve. Looks like the cat is out of the bag and the group “Americans Elect” is getting exposed for what they truly are. A bunch of big Wall Street fat cats trying to subvert the electoral process.

        • david

          no, you guys actually really are dense. there is some merit (a lot, I think) to the notion that a person and his wealth can be disaggregated, such that the wealth does not eviscerate its holder from having any independent beliefs about problems with our electoral system. it doesn’t appear that such a notion gets a half-nanosecond of thought in this board. I could go on, but it would be a waste of my time.

  • Legalise Robbery of this Country: 11/27/11
    In Oregon only are about 22,000 so named “nonprofit” organizations. Assess? About $1 Trillion. In the USA? Cut these suckers / parasites of this nation and there will be more than enough money to balance national budget, create many jobs and do not cut military. It is a regular robbery of the country and We the People.
    Founders of these organizations are mostly who have legal education, lawyers and who do business with money, and the founders are paying themselves big salaries and etc. What they are doing? Almost nothing.
    Where money came to them from? China? Japan? Who gave them money? This nation bankrupt. Who cares? But they are getting money every year for many years. Where is the president? Who cares?

    Pavel Goberman – Candidate (Not Affiliated) for US Repres., Oregon
    503-643-8348 http://www.getenergized.com allbefit@aol.com

  • mary sidler

    I am surprised at the response about American Elect. Those who are vocal against it due to its connection with hedge fund money seem to presume that it is right leaning, greedy capitalists. Obviously they have not experienced the website themselves or consider the “polling” questions posted there or they would see how left-oriented the organization is. The polling multiple answers are written with a bias that the traditional left positions are more morally right and the postings are as right-bashing as MSNBC. And due to such, there are comments by conservatives that came to the site lured by the “non-partisan” characteristic promised. Their comments question the origination of the funding for the organization because its progressive orientation is clear.

    • Ian

      I have to say Mary is right, here. I am against almost everything about our credit-based economy and the stock market, blah blah blah, but even I have invested a sizable amount of money in mutual funds. I realize this is hypocritical, but you can’t be a philanthropist if you don’t get a high foothold in the current institution. The stock market is not inherently “evil” or anything of that sort, it’s just the current process that is corrupt.

      My point is, Americans Elect may prove not to be such a bad thing. Even though I have a lot of issues with how they seem to be running their operation at the moment (such as choosing to release profiles on Dem. and Rep. candidates before allowing third parties to participate), I don’t think it’s fair to make judgement yet seeing how progressive certain aspects of their process are… even if as of thus far AE has just been a tease.

      • Ralph

        Could you explain in more detail which criticisms of Americans Elect you find unfair, and why?

        • Ian

          I already explained my own problem with the early release of the candidates’ profiles, and I had a similar issue with the way they handled the questions that they require candidates to answer in order to get on the ballot. The only questions that are widely viewed or rated are those asked months ago, and the sorting system favors these posts heavily. AE also didn’t provide a way to organize ideas, group or refine questions, etc.

          Again, other than these issues (any the matter of the funding) AE is nothing more than a seemingly progressive system to elect a candidate to a presidential ballot. Even if it is biased to our already existing bi-partisan system, at least it allows a way for people to directly nominate a candidate — I don’t see how that could be a terrible thing. If it turns out not to impact “politics as usual” then at worst it is a waste of private funds (not that the $34million salary increases among the richest Americans were being tied up in anything philanthropic anyway — pools and cars and huge houses that you don’t spend much time in are clearly productive investments). It won’t even “dilute” the election process as I’ve seen some people suggest; if you look at the website the most followed candidates are already leading the polls.

          Initially I was excited about AE, but as of now I see no reason to be hopeful, nor vehemently opposed to it.

  • Tes

    PLEASE keep up with this story. I’ve also tried contacting these folks. I also have no idea who they are, where they get their funding. Yet, they’re asking for money support and recruiting. I’m tired to death of pie-in-the-sky quasi-political groups that wax and wane a year or two before each election…and I don’t trust these folks any more than any of the rest.

  • Americans Elect’s goal of creating a tertium quid in the Presidential race raises serious legal questions. Will votes for Barack Obama on the Democratic ticket be added to votes for Barack Obama on the Americans Elect ticket? The most they can expect to accomplish is to assure that no candidate for President receives a majority of the Electoral College. This will push the selection of our next President into the House of Representatives, a body that has about a nine percent approval rating among the voters.

  • Just so you know, Americans Elect never answered this question.

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